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How to make a good beach great
More than any other resort in Britain, Brighton tends to turn its back on the front for most of the year.
It’s almost as if the city is saying to rivals that Brighton is much more than a strip of shingle bedecked by a few seasonal attractions.
But when the summer sun made a belated appearance at the weekend, Brighton’s beaches were more crowded than I had seen them for years.
Thousands of trippers were joined in equal numbers by locals and the official estimate was that on Sunday there were 100,000 people sitting on the stones.
One reason why people flock to Brighton is that the front is so much better than it used to be. Renovations to the Lower Esplanade between the piers have revived the fishing quarter, created an artists’ area and introduced all manner of shops.
Whereas 20 years ago, the beaches would be full of litter after a busy weekend, now there are frequent collections during the day.
People with pets generally clean up after them, making dog mess much less of a hazard than it once was.
Greater use is made of beach huts for parties and celebrations while barbecues have become immensely popular. Because nearly all of them are portable, they do not leave a dangerous mess of smouldering ashes on the beach.
Once you scarcely saw a sail off Brighton beach. Today you see scores of them, some from yachts based at the Marina and others from windsurfers at Hove’s watersports centre.
There are three really good children’s playgrounds – at Kemp Town, the West Pier and the Lagoon – plus opportunity for sports ranging from skateboarding to beach volleyball.
But there is a lot more that could be done to improve what used to be advertised as seven miles of glorious coastline.
I will pass over the major sites crying out for investment such as the King Alfred and Black Rock since they are long-term projects, and concentrate on smaller changes that could make a big difference.
The seafront cycle lane has been a success but is downright dangerous in a few locations, notably near the Palace Pier , by Hove Lagoon and in Madeira Drive where the markings are confusing.
Skateboarding is so popular by the Lagoon that the area should be extended and there is room to do it west of the present site.
At the far end of Hove, there are underwater obstructions which injure scores of swimmers every year. It wouldn’t take much time or trouble to remove them one winter’s day at low tide.
Although Brighton beach is celebrated for its shingle, children love sand. There is some at the café by Yellowave beach sports centre in Madeira Drive and a few small areas in playgrounds but more are needed.
Much more information is needed on boards all along the seafront about the weather – both forecasts for the day and records of the past.
A few scrawled notes by lifeguard stations are not good enough. Someone also needs to take the sea temperature since estimates provided are often a long way from the truth.
More cafes and kiosks are required along the front in Hove to offer beach equipment like flip-flops – and snacks.
An extended car park is needed at Portslade beach to take the pressure off West Hove. It would be popular if properly signposted.
Electronic signs could also be used to offer alternative routes to the A23 out of Brighton on busy summer afternoons.
Hove station could be advertised by Southern as a Sunday stop because the station in Brighton can become crowded.
A seafront bus service would be handy between Grand Avenue in Hove and the Brighton boundary. The 700 bus only serves Kingsway west of that.
In Madeira Drive, the seafront lift, when working, needs to be properly signed and advertised so that old and infirm people can use it rather than climb about 80 steep steps to Marine Parade.
More signs are needed on the seafront to remind visitors of Brighton and Hove’s fascinating history and architecture.
Beach showers, first introduced at the suggestion of former councillor and keen swimmer Bob Bailey, need to be provided more widely.
Brighton could do with a few new ideas – like the long bench and the land train in Littlehampton.
It’s the nearest south coast resort to London and will always attract some punters because of that.
But to remain as the top resort it has to upgrade the front all the time rather than rely on its inland appeal.